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New code of practice still leaves hens stuck in cages

So-called “enriched” cages will still be allowed under new codes of practice for laying hens


by Debra Probert, VHS Executive Director

A cage is a cage

The long-awaited revised Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pullets and Laying Hens has been released. You may remember that in 2016 VHS called upon you to submit your thoughts to the committee during the comment period.

First, an explanation. The codes of practice, according to industry and the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC), are nationally developed guidelines. Yes, guidelines. They contain ‘requirements’ and ‘recommended practices’.  ‘Requirements’ represent a consensus position that the required measures are to be implemented. Yes, a position. Those who fail to implement requirements may be compelled by industry to comply. Requirements may be enforceable under federal and provincial legislation.

‘Recommended Practices’ promote ‘producer education’ and are generally expected to ‘enhance animal welfare outcomes.’ Failure to implement them, according to the Council, doesn’t imply acceptable standards of animal care are not met.

One of the most egregious failing of the new codes, in our opinion, is that they do not require a system to enforce the requirements or the recommended practices. They do not mandate a third-party animal welfare auditing system, as occurs in organic egg production. There is nothing mandatory in place to ensure that farmers are complying with requirements or recommended practices.

The failure of the codes to recommend a phase-out of all cages is also an egregious omission. Although conventional battery cages are to be phased out by July 1, 2036, and although industry has committed to transition a minimum of 85% of hens within 15 years, ‘enriched’ cages are considered to be an acceptable option. Enriched cages still restrict key behaviours like running, full wing-flapping and flying and do not permit unrestrained perching and dustbathing. Even in an enriched cage system that meets the code requirements, many of the welfare problems inherent in battery cages remain. 

In Europe, where enriched cages have been used for years, investigators are finding the conditions for hens to be little better than they were in battery cages – anxious hens with beaks severely trimmed, bodies badly feather-pecked, perches too low, too many hens crammed in, lives spent on wire floors or dirty perches and inadequate nesting and foraging opportunities.

This seems incredibly short-sighted, considering that most of the major retail and restaurant companies in North America have committed to sourcing cage-free eggs to meet the demands of consumers, and most of them, well before 2036.

This looks to be a case of the fox guarding the henhouse, and it will now be up to consumers to continue to demand cage-free products – or the least inhumane – certified organic eggs.

Or just don’t buy eggs at all.

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Working together for animals

Photo 7 PF Someone not something

VHS would like to thank all the organizations listed below who signed on to the group letter that we sent to A&W asking them to go cage-free. Not only did A&W listen, but they plan to be cage-free within two years, ahead of most other companies. Nicely done, everyone!


Animal Justice Canada

“Commercial animal agriculture is essentially an unregulated industry. The absence of government oversight has created a race to the bottom, with animals paying the ultimate price of physical and psychological torment. Companies and consumers have the power to demand better for animals through their purchases and food choices.” Anna Pippus, Director of Farmed Animal Advocacy



Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals

“We applaud companies like A&W that are showing genuine leadership in animal welfare, not simply by committing to buying cage-free eggs, but also by doing so in a reasonable timeline of two years — millions more hens will live better lives because of it.”  Edana Brown, Director


Humane Society International/Canada

“HSI/Canada welcomes another of Canada’s largest restaurants joining the growing list of companies demanding a cage-free future for hens. A&W’s commitment to improve the welfare of hens in its supply chain by moving to 100 percent cage-free eggs sends a clear message to the egg industry that confining chickens in cages simply has no place in our nation’s agricultural future.”  Sayara Thurston, Campaign Manager


Mercy for Animals

“We praise A&W for swiftly addressing this important issue on the minds of conscious consumers across Canada. The company’s new cage-free egg policy is a crucial step that will reduce the suffering of countless hens.”  Krista Hiddema, Managing Director


Vancouver Humane Society

“A&W thought they were doing the right thing by sourcing eggs from ‘enriched’ cages. Kudos to them for hearing us when we told them that enriched cages severely restrict  key behaviours like running, full wing-flapping and flying and do not permit unrestrained perching and dustbathing. A cage is a cage.” Debra Probert, Executive Director


Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Farmed Animals

(no comment available)


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A&W promises to go cage-free




A&W has announced that it will serve only cage- and antibiotic-free eggs within two years.

The announcement follows a campaign by VHS and other Canadian animal protection groups, which urged the fast-food chain to join the many other food companies that have gone cage-free.

A VHS online petition had gained more than 6700 signatures asking A&W to stop using eggs from caged hens.

VHS applauds A&W for listening to the concerns about caged hens and responding in a positive and timely manner.

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Animal groups ask A&W to go cage-free




Please sign our petition



VHS and five other animal welfare organizations have signed a joint letter urging A&W Restaurants to stop using eggs from caged hens.

The letter follows news that Tim Hortons and Burger King have committed to going 100 per cent cage-free.  In recent months, a number of major food companies have also announced they will transition to using cage-free eggs.

The joint letter, addressed to A&W CEO Paul Hollands, states: “Enriched cages severely restrict important physical activities including running, flying and wing-flapping and do not permit unrestrained perching and dustbathing.” The letter says consumers have turned against eggs from caged hens and that, “To them and to the wider public, a cage is a cage.” The letter is signed by:

The Vancouver Humane Society
Humane Society International/Canada
Mercy for Animals Canada
Animal Justice
Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Farmed Animals
The CanadianCoalition for Farm Animals

An online petition calling on A&W to go cage-free has gathered more than 6000 signatures.

VHS media release

Media Release

Top Canadian animal groups call on A&W to go cage-free

VANCOUVER, Feb. 2, 2016 /CNW/ – Six leading Canadian animal protection agencies today called on A&W Food Services of Canada to stop using eggs from caged-hens. A joint letter – signed by Animal Justice, the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals, Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Farmed Animals, Humane Society International/Canada, Mercy for Animals Canada and the Vancouver Humane Society – urges the fast-food chain to join the growing number of food companies switching to cage-free eggs.

Despite announcements by other restaurant chains, including Tim Hortons and McDonald’s Canada, that they will go cage-free, A&W has committed to using “enriched cages” for laying hens, which are only slightly larger than the notoriously cruel battery cages that have been widely condemned.

The joint letter, addressed to A&W CEO Paul Hollands, states: “Enriched cages severely restrict important physical activities including running, flying and wing-flapping and do not permit unrestrained perching and dustbathing.” The letter says consumers have turned against eggs from caged hens and that, “To them and to the wider public, a cage is a cage.”

An online petition calling on A&W to go cage-free has gathered more than 6000 signatures.

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Tell A&W to go cage-free!

Hens in “enriched” cages.


Sign our petition asking A&W Restaurants to stop using eggs from caged hens

Update: More actions you can take 


Canadians are familiar with A&W Restaurants’ TV commercials boasting about the company’s vegetarian feed for chickens, but does the company actually care about chickens?  When you realize that A&W uses eggs from hens kept in battery cages and in so-called “enriched cages”, it appears the answer is clearly not very much.

What’s worse, the company appears to have no intention of moving to cage-free eggs, as many food companies are now doing.  We’re calling on A&W to follow the lead of companies like McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks, Nestle, General Mills and others, who have announced they are switching to cage-free eggs.

On its website, A&W says that “all of our hens will live in enriched housing by the end of 2016.” However, scientific evidence shows that, in welfare terms, a cage is still a cage, enriched or not, and that the birds will continue to suffer. The space and facilities provided in enriched cages are so inadequate that they deprive the birds of the ability to engage in natural behaviours, leading to frustration, suffering and body degeneration.

VHS’s ChickenOUT! campaign has helped educate consumers about the animal welfare problems created by keeping hens in cages – B.C. has the highest cage-free egg production of any province (17% compared to a national average of 3%).  (Our message has always been:  If you eat eggs please buy certified organic eggs, as they are guaranteed cage-free and have the highest welfare standards. Going egg free is the best option – it’s cruelty-free and alternatives to eggs in baking are widely available.)

Consumers need to let A&W know that enriched cages are still cages.

Sign our petition calling on A&W to do the right thing and switch to cage-free egg suppliers.

Latest: See our article in the Huffington Post!

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Is the end in sight for battery cages?

Change is coming but more than 90 per cent of eggs in Canada still come from hens in battery cages.




It looks like egg farmers are finally getting the message that consumers don’t want eggs from hens kept in crowded, cruel battery cages.

Their apparent conversion to the concept of cage-free egg production emerged in recent local media reports.  One farmer told the Abbotsford News: “I realized that’s the way of the future so I needed to personally change to meet the needs of our customers.”

His views were echoed by Brad Bond, chairman of the BC Egg Marketing Board, who told the Vancouver Sun: “This trend is going to continue and we are well-positioned to meet the demand… We know that animal welfare is top of mind for the hospitality industry and consumers alike.”

This welcome change comes after years of pressure by animal welfare groups that has educated consumers and retailers about the inherent cruelty of battery cages.  The recent decision by MacDonald’s Restaurants to phase out the use of eggs from caged hens may be the nail in the coffin for battery systems.  This follows similar decisions by big food companies such as Starbucks, General Mills, Sodexo, Aramark and Compass Group.

Here in British Columbia, VHS has led the fight against battery cages with our ChickenOUT! campaign – and we know it’s had an impact. It’s no accident that in B.C. nearly 17 per cent of eggs come from cage-free systems, compared to about three per cent in the rest of Canada.

But with more than 90 per cent of Canada’s eggs still coming from caged hens, there is a long way to go. And there are many problems to overcome.  Some farmers may switch to “enriched cages,” which provide a bit more space but still deny vital natural behaviours. Others may only go as far as switching to free-run or free-range, without moving to certified organic production, which has the highest welfare standards and is inspected by independent, third-party auditors to ensure operations are truly free-range.

VHS executive director Debra Probert expressed such concerns to the Vancouver Sun: “It’s a progressive move and those birds will be out of cages, but the public should know this is not the highest welfare system for laying hens…It remains to be seen how this free-run industry will function.” Nevertheless, the direction away from cages is clear.

While VHS welcomes the reduction in animal suffering that comes with the elimination of battery cages, we are well aware that the egg industry will still have inherent welfare problems, such as the killing of unwanted male chicks and inhumane transportation and slaughter, which all chickens endure.

That’s why VHS urges consumers to try making the switch to a plant-based diet.  Reducing or eliminating eggs from your diet are the best ways to help end the suffering of laying hens.  The good news is that new alternatives to eggs and egg products are emerging.

While victory over battery cage operations cannot yet be declared, their end is in sight.  Perhaps more importantly, the campaigns against them have shown that educating consumers and pressuring producers and retailers does work.  This bodes well for the fight against other cruel factory farm practices.  VHS is committed to being a part of that fight.  We hope you will join us.




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Overwaitea first in North America to introduce store-wide Cage Eggs signage


OFG Egg Labels
New labels at Save-On-Foods, at Cambie & 7th Avenue in Vancouver

BC’s Overwaitea Food Group (OFG) has just become the first grocery chain in North America to feature ‘Cage Eggs’ signage on all of its stores’ shelves. OFG operates 140 stores in B.C. and Alberta under the banners Overwaitea Foods, Save-On-Foods, Urban Fare, PriceSmart Foods, Coopers Foods and Bulkley Valley Wholesale.

The labels will also clearly indicate which eggs are free-run, free-range and certified organic, and how the label relates to the hens’ housing and welfare.

VHS initiated the first pilot of the improved egg labels in 2011, and thanks to the ongoing support of our donors, we have been working with OFG ever since to improve the labels’ wording and format.

“Polls have shown the majority of Canadians want more humane treatment for farm animals, with 78 per cent saying they would support a requirement to label eggs as “eggs from caged hens,” said Leanne McConnachie, VHS’s Director of Farmed Animal Programs. “Placing VHS’s colour-coded, easy-to-read labels on the shelves in the egg display case will help consumers make more humane choices as they shop.”